October 29, 2012

Convicted sex offender in Granite School Board race wants to focus on the issues

10-29-2012 Utah:

Improving technology in classrooms. Reducing the achievement gap between white students and minorities. Overseeing a multimillion dollar budget.

Like many of the state’s largest school districts, the Granite Board of Education must balance ongoing challenges to steer its growing district of 67,736 students into the future.

Candidates will square off Nov. 6 to earn a four-year term on the seven-member board, which is responsible for a $560 million budget and creating policies that affect dozens of schools in Salt Lake County.

Three seats are up for grabs. Candidate Connie Anderson in District 2 and Sarah R. Meier in District 4 are both running unopposed.

In the District 1 race, where a wealth of education issues could be at the forefront, one aspect continues to draw attention as Election Day nears: Candidate Richard Wagner Jones is a registered sex offender.

That means if Jones prevails in the election as the board member to represent constituents in the Holladay area over incumbent businessman Dan Lofgren, he’ll face barriers in visiting the schools he’d represent.

Jones fulfilled obligations imposed by the court after his 1990 second-degree felony conviction of sexual abuse of a child for sexually abusing a girl. He spent five years at the Utah State Prison and 10 years on probation, which ended in 2005. He remains on the sex offender registry, which, according to state law, prohibits him from going to public or private elementary or secondary schools if he doesn’t get special permission from a school administrator first.

Jones is up-front about his crime. He lists on his website, www.electwagner.com, treatment that he received in prison and includes statistics about the likelihood of sex offenders repeating their crimes once released. Three out of every five sex crimes are "crimes of confusion" in which the problem is corrected once confronted and the majority of offenders never offend again, Jones states.

He was in the elders quorum presidency of his local congregation in the 1980s and rebaptized into the LDS Church after 18 years in 2008. He’s been politically active for much of his life, including serving as chairman of the East Side Voter Forum, which has sponsored a number of debates. Still, he knows that his time in prison means some voters won’t consider his viewpoints.

"People have their baggage, and I have my baggage in this election, of course," Jones said. "We live in a Judeo-Christian society I think, where repentance is something people want to do. I’ve bent over backwards to be an example to my sons of someone who faces their problems. People who run away from their problems are dangerous."

Still, Jones’ history is a red flag to some in the community who worry that he can’t overcome past demons despite his candid remarks about his crime.

"I think there’s still consequences. How can you erase everything?" said Anderson, the District 2 candidate, about Jones’ past. "I think the public needs to be aware [of Jones’ history]."

Jones said his reasons for running for school board include wanting to improve the district’s initiatives on how to motivate students and teachers. He wants to lower class sizes, improve incentives for teachers and questions why the school board needs so many executive sessions, where business is conducted out of the public eye.

Lofgren, a developer and CEO of Holladay-based Cowboy Partners, ran for the school board in 2008 when Granite found itself entangled in controversy with contentious discussions about school closures and district splits.

He wanted to use his business background and principles used in difficult negotiations to help facilitate smoother discussions in the district. Four years later, he said he thinks he accomplished that and wants to move forward in closing the achievement gap, improving graduation rates, stimulating the district’s highest achievers and using technology to create differentiated learning pathways for students — a term that describes individualizing each student’s education through finding the teaching method that best resonates with them.

"The attitude and personality of the district today, in my opinion, is different," said Lofgren, whose four children graduated from Skyline High School and are all now in college. "I say that not just from my standpoint, but in how the community sees the district and the collaboration that’s going on. I’m encouraged right now."

Lofgren also shies away from criticizing his opponent. ..Source.. by Melinda Rogers

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